Did you know that dogs are really ants that have had too much to eat?
So goes a nonsense song by Paul Tracey--musician, singer and one of the best story-tellers around--one of many fine children's entertainers who performed at the third annual Theatre Arts Festival for Youth in Agoura over the weekend.
A capricious wind kicked up dust, battered balloons and scattered paper over the festival's mountain site at the Peter Strauss Ranch, but it couldn't affect the event's good humor. Giggles rang out in the hillside amphitheater at the antics of Charles the Clown and J. P. Nightingale.
Parents wistfully eyed Michael Parks' 50-foot inflatable art project, while their children crawled inside to decorate the clear plastic balloon with Magic Markers. Dolls and bears brought from home received tender care from the Children's Hospital Teddy Bear Clinic.
Producers John and Pam Wood, who along with keyboard artist Joe Tripoli are the J. P. Nightingale troupe, made good on their pledge to provide a family affair, their own performances funnier and fresher than ever.
This year's festival--called TAFFY for short--did suffer a few growing pains, however. Expanded to two days to accommodate the estimated 2,500 who attended, a healthy variety of quality talent was offered on two stages, but an added 1850 English village theme, with costumed animal characters who interacted with the crowd, had a work-in-progress feel.
The animal makeup, designed by Toni Garavaglia, was excellent, but mime Judi Garratt, whose strength is her accessibility to the very young, was hampered in her on-stage performance by the solemn wart-hog makeup she wore as Bert the Squirt.
The "village" consisted simply of a few wooden frames that housed concessions.
Back on stage, an African story/dance troupe, Rhythms of the Village, pleased the crowd with an informal tale of a greedy, naughty little girl; David Kinnoin sang light nonsense songs for the youngest; Peter Alsop offered musical messages for all ages; and twins Janet & Judy took a singing tour of the United States.
The tot-pleasing Jim Gamble Marionettes could hardly be seen on the flat patio stage with its one-level seating; they would have been better served on the amphitheater stage.
Carl Weintraub's excellent We Tell Stories troupe brought tales by e.e. cummings, Howard Pyle and J. R. R. Tolkien to life.
From its inception, TAFFY has been a good-will, high-energy event. Perhaps best representing its family spirit this year was Dan Crow, a singer and musician with enormous magnetism who sings wacky songs about vegetables and errant dogs. Crow collected exuberant hugs from young fans and abundant laughter from adults. It was a day for sharing.